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I'm a GM, and I'm comfortable exercising Rule 0 where appropriate, but I prefer to play by the rules if/where possible.

What I want to do

I want to take an ordinary plant, [do something], and have it be a creature—preferably permanently:

  • So that it has ability scores
  • So that it can be targeted by certain spells
  • So that it can wear magical items (or even have "item slots")

Possible uses:

  • It could be trained like many other animals (via Handle Animal)
  • It could be an animal companion or familiar
  • It could be a minion via the Leadership feat
  • It could inspire a fun NPC or villain: a druid who has a bunch of plants following them
  • If a party found exotic plants with interesting uses (if the plant were sentient), they could take the plants with them. (Examples: a sentient tuber guarding something could burrow itself into the ground if it detected an intruder and trigger a trap or ward on behalf of its master. A sentient poisonous vine could be taught to distinguish between friends and foes.)
  • An animated tomato plant could effectively counter a bardic performance-based skill/action by hurling rotten tomatoes at the performer. ;-)
  • Easter eggs for a casual session (example)

Similar stuff (and why it's insufficient)

It seems there are hints of a plant-mastering druid, but it never really evolved into an archetype.

The Animate Plants spell is great, but:

  • It's a 7th-level druid spell (available at Druid level 13), which seems overkill for animating tiny plants, such as a carrot.
  • It lasts either tens of rounds. It isn't permanent and isn't on the list of spells that can be made permanent — though, one could easily say that since Animate Object is on that list, Animate Plants ought to have been on the list, since it's the same in spirit.
  • It doesn't grant ability scores.
  • It doesn't offer independence of thought, emotion, will, etc. Animated objects (and animated plants by extension) attack whatever the caster initially designates.

The Grow Plant Creature feat is awesome because it explicitly allows for druids to create sentient plant companions, but:

  • It has a very limited selection of creatures, and no rules for extending this to plants not on this list.
  • Such plant creatures must be grown — they cannot be made out of an existing plant.

The Awaken spell is almost perfect, except:

  • The only plants that it affects are trees—not all mundane plants (of course, this could be modified).
  • It brings trees or animals to human-like sentience (high ability scores). This seems overkill.

See also

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Use the Treesinger druid archetype.

In the Advanced Race Guide there's a racial archetype for elves that lets a druid do exactly this. It introduces four plant-companion options:

  • Carnivorous Flower
  • Crawling Vine
  • Puffball
  • Sapling Treant

If you're looking for a creature the party can come across in the wild, you could just use the stats for these companions (possibly increasing their effective druid level based on the party's APL).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps worth noting that there’s nothing about this that really makes it elf-specific. It could add something to your world to have elf druids have this unique approach to druidism, if that’s what you want to do—but don’t feel beholden to it if you would rather it be more common, or rather it be specific to another race, or to a specific region (but druids of all races in that region), or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 18 '17 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Awesome class--I hadn't known about it. That said, it doesn't allow for any given plant to become sentient. I may use this archetype for an NPC soon, though! \$\endgroup\$ – jvriesem Apr 19 '17 at 13:47
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http://www.d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/a/awaken/

Start with the Awaken spell as a base, and do magical research to modify it to work on any plant, instead of just trees.

If you ask your DM nicely, they might be fine with "accidentally" misreading "any tree" as simply "any plant" without even any real research needed on your characters' part. (I can't see why it doesn't apply to all plants to begin with. It even describes it as "an awakened plant" within the spell.)

Sadly, with this spell existing, I don't think you'll find anything closer to what you want pre-existing in the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, awaken creates sentient plants. Creating plant-creatures that are mindless or of animal intelligence could very well be the result of a lesser, easier magic, which makes a lesser awaken spell quite plausible. Unfortunately, that does not seem to exist. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 18 '17 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Again, researching "down" from a spell would also be possible. It's strange that "Awaken" is a 5th level spell, and "animate plant" is 7th. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Apr 18 '17 at 18:51
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The awaken spell can turn a tree into a plant creature, which “has characteristics as if it were an animated object, except that it gains the plant type and its Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores are each 3d6.” But as a 5th-level spell it doesn’t help you much more than animate plants does. The benefits of having those mental ability scores are pretty solid, so it is plausible for a lesser awaken spell to exist and produce less-intelligent plant creatures. However, none does.

Looking into the animate objects spell itself (which would be valid for plant-objects as much as it is for other objects, so could be an alternative approach), it is even less helpful (6th-level spell and creates Construct-type creatures instead of Plant-type creatures, even when targeting plant-objects), but we also see room for reasonable downgrades: it affects a lot of objects at once. But no animate object spell seems to exist.

Finally, I want to note a similar spell along these lines that does have a lesser variant: animate dead. The lesser animate dead spell produces a single undead minion of no more than twice your caster level in HD, and you cannot have more than four times your caster level in HD of undead minions at a time.

So then, how about a bit of homebrew? I am considered pretty good at it, and this is pretty straight-forward, I think. We create a lower-level of awaken that targets only plants (but plants smaller than trees), doesn’t make them sentient, and basically just creates Plant-type animated objects. Unlike animated objects, the spell will only target one thing at a time and take a while to cast, but the result will be a real creature, not temporarily-animated ones the way animated objects does. And we’ll use lesser animate dead as a guide for balancing this, and slap the same spell level—2nd—on it.

Lesser animate plant

  • Level druid 2, shaman 2

  • Casting Time 1 minute

  • Components V, S, M (herbs and oils worth 25 gp per HD of creature created)

  • Target non-creature plant touched

This spell functions like awaken except as noted. It can target only plants, but it can target any sort of non-creature plants, rather than just trees. The awakened plant has characteristics as if it were an animated object except it has the plant type. It has the usual mental ability scores for an animated object of its size, rather than scores each equal to 3d6. It is mindless, and must be controlled by the caster.

The caster can only control a limited number of such plants at a time. If all of the plants are tiny, the caster may control a number equal to four times her caster level. However, each small plant counts as two tiny plants, each medium plant counts as two small plants (four tiny plants), and so on, to a colossal plant counting as 32 tiny plants. Furthermore, the caster cannot animate any target that would consume more than half her control pool (so a colossal plant cannot be animated until the control pool is large enough to accommodate 64 tiny plants, at 16th level).

The caster may cease animating a given plant as a free action. When she does so, that plant returns to being an object, rooting itself as appropriate to the species if possible (if not, the plant will likely die soon after).

There, that should be a fairly good, consistent way to have druids in your campaign have plant minions around them as early as 3rd level. If any of your players want to know how, or want to do so themselves, this provides the means. Hope it helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this homebrew need to be backed up with actual-play experience? I was pretty sure that was a rule for rpg.se. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Apr 19 '17 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ In more detail: do I understand correctly that this homebrew spell would let a level-3 druid permanently control three CR3 medium animated plants? ie, they cast the spell during downtime and then they just have the minions? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Apr 19 '17 at 15:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ You've balanced this spell by comparing it to animate dead, but (in many games) there are serious role-playing consequences for using animate dead: NPCs might hire adventurers to kill you, and your fellow party members might or might not tolerate the use of this evil spell. Your spell does not seem to have this drawback. Does this seem like a problem? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Apr 19 '17 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB I'm not sure that campaign-specific issues with spells (even ones as volatile as animate dead) are entirely appropriate in this case. But, in defense of the spell lesser animate plants as a campaign issue, exploiting plants in such a way sounds like it may run afoul of just as many plant-friendly folk ("You filthy plant slaver, tell your shrubbery to put down that spear and go back to its natural environment!") as animate dead does of good folk. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 20 '17 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanB No, the SE requirement is to back things up. I have indicated how I developed the spell and how it compares to existing spells. It’s not perfect, and if you want to consider it not good enough and downvote, that’s fair, but it’s also not compulsory by the rules. I agree with HeyICanChan that I’d consider social reactions to undead or plant minions to be beyond the scope of the spell itself for balance. The three CR-3 medium plants is pretty close to what lesser animate dead allows, but when I have some time I’ll review the numbers on that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 20 '17 at 14:33
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Why not some kind of Leshy?

Take a look at Leshys, and more particularly the gourd one, and change the skin a bit so it looks as you want. You can also change some abilities as you wish.

Notice Leshys can be created through a kind of druidic ritual:

Growing a Leshy

The process of growing a leshy has some similarities to making a construct, but doesn’t require the Craft Construct feat. Typically, the creator of a leshy must be a powerful druid, but anyone capable of making the required Knowledge checks and casting the required spells may attempt the process.

For example the gourd leshy can by created by a lvl 5 druid (it needs 5 ranks in Knowledge(nature), Animate Plants and two other low-level druidic spells). You can state similar prerequisites for your home-made monster (like for example switching Entangle to Goodberry or other equivalent exchanges) but you don't even need to.

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